A Safety Net When They Leave the Nest
By Rich Beattie
- PUBLISHED March 19
- 6 MINUTE READ
“I’m going to try an experiment this year,” said Wendy Northup to her 29-year-old daughter, Sarah, at the beginning of 2019. “I’m not giving you any money.”
It was a big step. Wendy had been helping Sarah out financially as she finished grad school and then worked through an internship on her way to becoming a therapist. Wendy, the head of the art department at an independent school in the Los Angeles area, sent rent checks whenever Sarah needed them.
The situation is hardly unique: About 40% of 22- to 24-year-olds receive some level of financial assistance from their parents. That money helps with living expenses at a time when college grads are often struggling to find their footing. And the assistance pays off, too. Research shows that when parents help get their college-graduate kids off the ground financially, they have greater professional success down the line.
Food Bills, Yes, but Not Car Payments
Still, it wasn’t easy for Wendy to support her daughter. She wanted to encourage financial independence with Sarah and her other three children. But Sarah had taken out loans for grad school, and her internship required putting in so many hours that there was no time left for paying work. While Wendy didn’t want to cover her daughter’s tuition, she did want Sarah to know she was there for her. “I knew she couldn’t do whole thing herself,” says Wendy.
So Wendy helped with rent, as well as the occasional doctor or dentist bill. “I didn’t want her not to eat,” says Wendy. “And I didn’t want her to make bad choices because she didn’t have the money.” They spoke frequently on the phone, and when Sarah needed something beyond rent, Wendy would consider it. “I drew the line at a car,” says Wendy. “She was going to school in a city with good public transportation—she simply didn’t need one.”
Another Daughter Needs a Helping Hand
Wendy faced a similar scenario with her other daughter, Erica, who graduated from art school two years ago and hasn’t yet found a full-time job. Art and design is a particularly challenging field to break into: Of those considering a career in it, 53 percent have gone to their parents for help. Still, Erica felt horrible asking, says Wendy—she tried to make ends meet by piecing together dog-walking and other odd jobs. But it wasn’t enough, so Wendy helped Erica with rent as well.
Neither daughter was an overspender, and neither ever called their mother with a sense of entitlement. “They both wanted to take on the full financial responsibility of their lives,” she says, “but they were struggling with the way the world is.”
Empathy and Family Traditions
That recognition—and the sense that her daughters were doing their best to provide for themselves—brought out Wendy’s empathy. “I tried to make it easy to have them call and ask for money,” she says. “Having a family that says ‘I’m going to help you get through this’ was important to me.”
In fact, it was a lesson that Wendy learned from her father, who helped her out as a struggling young artist. “I remember what it was like to ask for rent money,” says Wendy. “It’s not a great feeling when you think, ‘I’m an adult now—why can’t I pay my bills?’”
That empathy carried over to another child, too—her son, Dennis, who had an accident that took him out of work for nine months. She and Dennis’s father took turns paying half his rent until he got better. Wendy even paid some of Dennis’s other bills to keep his credit rating intact. “Medical situations are a no-brainer when it comes to helping out,” says Wendy.
Assistance Paying Off
Today, Dennis is back on his feet, making a good living as an animator. Erica has moved in with her father as she searches for work. Sarah’s internship is finishing up and she’s working, so Wendy feels she’ll be able to follow through on her “experiment” of not giving her money this year. (Wendy’s other child, Lisa, got a job with benefits right out of college and didn’t need assistance.)
Wendy sees the difference that a bit of financial assistance has made in her kids’ lives—especially with Sarah. “She was excited about going to grad school, then got very involved with her internship, and now loves her work and is super-committed to her clients,” says Wendy. “I’m thrilled I was able to help her achieve her dreams.”
Rich Beattie is a former executive digital editor of Travel + Leisure, and has written for outlets such as The New York Times, Popular Science, New York Magazine and SKI.